Where does the sound come from?
I found a very interesting comment from luthier James Robinson in his "advertisement" Choosing Your Next Instrument (on page 59 of Stringendo Journal of the Australian Strings Association, Vol 40, Number 2, October 2018):
"Don't be too influenced by a salesperson that plays it for you, remember the sound you hear comes mostly from the player not the instrument."
This could sit on the same page in my notebook as gems, like, "With everything we play, our first concern is tone production ..."; and, "If you think you need a new instrument, have your teacher play your current one to you, before you buy ..."
All very difficult stuff to swallow, especially when I am told the true tone you make is heard at least four metres away, out in front of you.
Ah well, that is why these string things are fun. I think. Maybe.
This forum is difficult, as there are professionals and there are amateurs, and you don't know who's who, but pros don't "choose their next instrument" so often, so I guess this question is aimed at amateurs.
Is "salespeople" playing violins in front of customers a thing? I have never noticed it, only ever been left in a room with a bunch of instruments in the right price range and told to let them know when I had some thoughts
I'd say your first two quotations are spot on although I'd dispute the third. The problem I find when auditioning instruments is that they all tend to come out sounding like me (especially if I record the results). To be complimented on the sound of my violin I find quite insulting - that was me making that tone! Over the years I've spent far more time practising tone, intonation and phrasing than just getting more and faster notes under my fingers. Nobody wants to hear a violinist with a lousy tone, no matter how stupendous their technique.
Someone once gave Keith Richards a cheap guitar to see what he would sound like without all the electronic equipment, expensive guitars, and so forth. Well, Keith Richards sounded like Keith Richards. He couldn't help it. That was that. I have a feeling if he were a violinist he'd sound like Keith Richards playing a violin. (Let's pause for a moment and think of a world with The Rolling Stones String Quintet...........) You may not have an expensive violin, but then again, you can't always get what you want. What you do have is your sound. That sound is in you.
Parents assisting my lessons would notice that when I tried my student's "student" violin (a) it sounded better than when the student played on it, and (b) it still sounded less good than my own violin.
There are really a bunch of different types of people buying violins, though some advice is applicable across all categories:
From my experience more expressive players will always look for different colors of sound and for the fine nuances, and these are usually proficient players and soloists. Players with less experience usually gravitate towards instruments that are brighter under the ear. So it is what feels comfortable for you at the level you are at. However, if you are more interested in what the violin actually sounds like, I would suggest you find a reasonably sized hall and get a really good player to join you and go and listen to him or her play from the back of the hall, and you might be amazed how different a violin sounds from a distance. This might help you decide when choosing your next instrument.
I've thought about this subject in great detail, partially because it's so hard to choose an instrument based only on how it sounds under your own ear, knowing very well that violins sound differently from the 3rd party perspective than they do to you, the player.
Indeed the player makes the sound, but he or she can only "take" what the instrument has to give. I have two very different violas: one has a "mezzo" quality (for Mozart?), the other is a plummy contralto (for Brahms?). My playing adapts to each, especially at the start of each note and in the speed of vibrato, but I have similar phrasing and accentuation on either viola.